Home > Features > Product Review: 3Dconnexion's SpaceNavigator

At Macworld Expo 2007 in San Francisco I was able to actually get my hands on the new 3DConnexion SpaceNavigator using it on a Mac. That was a big deal. 3Dconnexion's family of 3d navigation devices have previously only been available for Microsoft Windows. Prior to the show I noted in pre-show news that something really cool was coming to the world of Mac 3d and this was it.

SpaceNavigator is the first 3Dconnexion product to support the Mac.(see image 01) Although in beta until the end of March 2007, the product became available to users at Macworld Expo as a "public beta." Since about mid January I've been exploring its use as an interface input supplement to the traditional mouse.


SpaceNavigator for Mac

The SpaceNavigator device is a USB-powered interface input supplement to a traditional mouse that is specifically geared for navigating 3-dimensional spaces in programs like 3D and modeling and rendering applications. It could even be useful to 3d games and other types of 3d programs such as Google Earth. It works with a Universal Binary-compliant driver for Macintosh computers (Intel or PowerPC) running the latest version of Mac OS X (Tiger 10.4.6). The driver itself is called 3DxMacWare and it establishes support for a small group of initial applications: Google SketchUp 6, Autodesk Maya 7 and above and auto-des-sys, incorporated’s form.Z 6.1.

01 - The SpaceNavigator is built of handsome materials and has an excellent quality touch.

Google SketchUp 6 (both free and Pro version) runs right after installation of the driver. form.Z and Maya require additional software plugins to be installed, which you acquire either from the developer's website or from 3Dconnexion.

We tested the beta driver and SpaceNavigator device with Google's SketchUp 6. Driver installation was a snap. Once installed the driver itself offers numerous settings options. The first settings set the overall speed of the device and the method of determining zoom direction. (see images 02-05). The SpaceNavigator's cap provides pan, zoom, tilt, spin and roll options and you can leave all of these on or establish just some of these functions. You can also reverse axes with the motion of the device and establish one axis (say x-x) as dominant.

As you can see from this image (see image 04) there are also buttons which can be programmed. The left button for example can be programmed to center the model in the window while the right button can take up a different function such as bringing up the preference settings pane. You can also provide macro-based custom functions per application. Lastly, the speed of each 3d navigation option can be individually controlled or reversed in axis. (see image 05)

02 - Device Preferences
03 - Navigation Control Options
04 - Custom Control Buttons
05 - Speed and Axes Controls


The Physical Body and The Touch

The SpaceNavigator, as can be seen from our desk snap shots, is approximately the same width of a standard mouse, perhaps a wee bit wider. (see images 06-07) It's heavy, like a paper-weight, and for good reason. The weight gives it stability and grip on the desk surface you place it on. This is key because you do put a good amount of pressure on the top cap of the device when you use it. But even if the weight could be eliminated somehow, I'm not sure I'd do that to the device. Like a Bang & Olson remote, which reportedly have had lead bars added to them on purpose, weight in a device like this gives it an undeniable sense of quality.

06 - The SpaceNavigator is built of handsome materials and have an excellent quality touch.
07 - A blue-light detail glows informing the user the device is powered up and ready to go.

Physically the SpaceNavigator is very attractive. The design has a straight-forward logic to it, the kind that any Mac user will recognize right away. Its materials, especially the cap piece itself, has this wonderful touch. Although similar, its larger product siblings don't nearly seem so zen-like with their wrist pads, LCD screens and numerous buttons. The SpaceNavigator then is the perfect device to introduce to the Mac audience.


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